Speech-language pathologists assess and treat patients with speech, language, voice and fluency disorders. They work with people who cannot make speech sounds or cannot make them clearly; those with speech rhythm and fluency problems, such as stuttering; people with speech quality problems, such as inappropriate pitch or harsh voice; and those with problems understanding and producing language. Pathologists develop an individualized care plan, tailored to each patient’s needs.
Speech-language pathologists may also work with people who have oral motor problems that cause eating and swallowing difficulties. These kinds of problems can result from a variety of causes including stroke, brain injury, learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, or cleft palate. The pathologist uses a number of assessment tools to analyze and diagnose the nature and extent of impairments, and then develops a personalized care plan.
Most speech-language pathologists provide direct clinical services to individuals with communication disorders. In medical facilities, the pathologist may work with physicians, social workers, psychologists, and other therapists to develop and execute a treatment plan. Pathologists who work in schools collaborate with teachers, special educators, interpreters, other school personnel, and parents to develop and implement individual or group programs.
- Educational services, school systems
- Health practitioner offices
- Private practice
- Long-term care facilities
- Home healthcare
- Individual and family services
- Child day care centers
Speech-language pathologists work in offices, classroom, medical facilities, and at patients’ bedsides, so the work setting will vary depending on the place of employment. While the work is not physically demanding, it requires attention to detail and intense concentration. The emotional needs of clients and their families may be demanding. Most full-time pathologists report working 40 hours per week, with most working daytime, weekday hours.
Employment of speech-language pathologists is expected to grow by 19 percent between 2008 and 2018, faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth in educational services will increase with growth in elementary and secondary school enrollments. Greater awareness of the importance of early identification and diagnosis of speech and language disorders in young children will also increase demand. A growing elderly population will also increase demand, as the elderly experience an increase incidence of neurological disorders and associated speech, language and swallowing impairments.
- Ability to learn the principles and practices of speech-language pathology
- Good verbal skills to read scientific literature, evaluate physical problems, and communicate with people
- Ability to keep accurate records, direct projects, and make decisions based on data and observations
- Ability to hear well and speak clearly
- Patience and an interest in helping people
- Good space and form perception and manual dexterity
The minimum educational requirement is a 4-year bachelor’s degree in speech-language pathology or in teacher education with courses in speech and hearing therapy. Most employers in private practice require a master’s degree.
Licensure or certification requirements vary by State. In Nebraska, an applicant for a license to practice speech-language pathology must be at least 19 years of age, have a master’s degree in speech-language pathology from an approved program, complete a clinical fellowship year, and pass the licensure or obtain an endorsement by a nationwide professional accrediting organization.
Programs in Nebraska
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Other careers that involve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of problems related to physical or mental health:
For more information on a career in audiology:
Career information adapted in part from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handook, 2010-2011 Edition, Speech-Language Pathologists, on the Internet at www.bls.gov